Amy Stengel stands in her favorite room in her house, filled with books and artwork from her two sons.
Amy Stengel stands in her favorite room in her house, filled with books and artwork from her two sons. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

I live in a home built in the late 1950s in Castle Hills – an old ranch style home, open and lit with giant windows all around. It’s full of natural light, wood and tile, brick and glass, and I love it. It is the home of three rescued and wily dogs and two almost grown athletic boys who like to bring their friends over for games of baseball and basketball.

Handles of doors are loose or missing due to swinging children and fast grips when going in and out. Tiles are broken due to unlawful skateboards, basketballs, and baseballs. The original windows in the corners of rooms are cracked. Furniture is dusty and eclectic, gathered from family and friends, thrift stores and garage sales, offered as gifts, and found treasures.

The Castle Hills neighborhood in San Antonio is shaded in blue.
The Castle Hills neighborhood in San Antonio is shaded in blue. Credit: Illustration / San Antonio Report – Google Maps

It sounds much worse than it is. It is a home full of laughter. The giant yard is great for barbecues, late-night campfires, and playing with dogs that can run at full speed.

The laundry list of house repairs, which can be quite disconcerting to a single parent, falls away with the joy of spying on raccoons and foxes, up to seven deer in the mornings, a giant buck, skunks and owls, hawks, and loose chickens. There is room for a garden to feed hundreds, if only I had the time – and someday I will.

A large bookcase filled with writing book make subtle bows in the shelves.
A large bookcase filled with writing books that make subtle bows in the shelves. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

This is where I live. Like most people’s homes, it is messy sometimes. It’s full of books, food, and music, dances with dogs, art projects, and late-night homework. The small 1950s closets spill over with laundry and a few treasured toys. The walls are covered with art by my children, photos of their young faces, travel photographs from friends, and paintings by my mother.

When my sons were small, we could walk to the nearest elementary school. I pulled them in a wagon. In the winter, they filled the wagon with blankets and pillow pets and rode in luxury with hot chocolate in small thermoses. Many days, my friends would join in this coddling caravan of young children.

For a long time, after school, I would take the wagon back full of musical instruments, snacks, a boom box, scripts, and props to direct a children’s musical as a volunteer. Scores of children and parents volunteered their time with elaborate costumes, beautiful sets, programs, and photo books documenting our creative journey with our community of young actors and crew members.

I cannot walk the dogs without thinking back to those days of long hours and late nights, the magical theater events that brought us together and made way for friends I still cherish and love today.

We found this house when my oldest son, now in college, was 3. We bought it because he loved it, because the moment we set foot in the yard he started running and laughing and didn’t stop, and because it was in the center of San Antonio, our city. It was close to work, the hospital for multiple stitches and broken arms, near friends and family, and yet far enough away to hold a yard full of trees, flowers, grass, and gardens.

One neighbor has a horse in his yard. Many have chickens and, because our neighborhood was the closest no-kill zone for the longest time in our city, many people have multiple dogs rescued from late-night abandonment. Castle Hills, by nature, respects its wildlife that blends a parklike atmosphere with a convenient central location.

A rotating spool rack sits at the corner of Amy's house filled with thread and family photographs.
A rotating spool rack sits at the corner of Amy’s house filled with thread and family photographs. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

There is a fire station where my sons have played late-night basketball. On a lucky day, a fireman would join them, reminding them to wear bicycle helmets and leaving meaningful impressions for a lifetime.

Around the corner is a police station and the mayor’s office, where the officers and the mayor will lean out their car windows to say “hello” and “how are you today?” It’s where the nicest and most helpful public works director knows everyone, offers advice, says “good morning” and your name, and even knows your pets’ names.

Castle Hill is passionate about its ideas and concerns for this quickly changing community. People know this because our local officials can make the news when their disagreements become fierce. They do care deeply.

We hold outdoor movies and seasonal parties in the center of our city. We celebrate the nearest high school by honoring the baseball teams and the band. Our residential diversity is celebrated by most, though we could do better.

This home survived a broken marriage, cradled the children and the things that belonged to them, wiped the tears of loss, and extended the arms of healing. The memories of joy and laughter – infused in the walls of rooms that held cribs and toy trains, blocks and stuffed bears – reminded my sons about happiness, that it was still there if only they looked around.

At night – after a long work day and high-school lacrosse games or my own play practices – when I drive into our driveway, there is that sense of tranquility we yearn for in the places we live: a longing to be inside, safe, and warm. The lighting looks like candlelight seen through the big plate glass windows from the road. The front door beckons and the windows blink, keeping our house alive, vibrant with laughter and tears, hunger and rest, joy and conflict, and most of all peace.

Amy Stengel is a theatre and creative writing teacher in the San Antonio Independent School District. She loves to write and read, be outside, to make costumes and sets, act, and direct plays with students....